Take a Break: The Best Places to Go in July

Colourful buildings on the Copenhagen waterfront

There are many directions to head as the Northern Hemisphere heads towards midsummer and the Southern Hemisphere cools right down. Europe is bathed in golden sunshine, making the Mediterranean a prime location for vacationers. The festival season is in full swing in the continental capitals and everywhere you look people are soaking up the long summer days in beer gardens, restaurants, terraces and parks. Get out there!

Tuscany, Italy

Florence, Tuscany – Italy

If the question is which Italian villa, then the answer is always Tuscany. Other Italian regions have their charms but few have towns as picturesque as the walled hillside town San Gimignano, 12th century Montemerano and charming, festival-filled Barga. The medieval hamlet of Certaldo remains largely intact and the village has many restaurants serving traditional food, bars, churches and museums. During July, the Mercantia festival (July 10-14) sees a cohort of international performers take to the village streets to perform. And if you can tear yourself away from the villages, a trip to the capital, Florence, yields some of the finest museums in the world –such as the art-crammed Uffizi and the Galleria dell’Accademia where Michelangelo’s David resides – not to mention world-class food and fashion.

Isla Holbox, Mexico

It’s being called the “new Tulum”. There’s not a lot wrong with the old Tulum, except its popularity took it from quiet backpacker hideaway to big-hotel tourist mecca. Isla Holbox is a sliver of an island located off the Yucatan Peninsula in the Gulf of Mexico, not far from the spring-breaker’s playground of Cancun but far enough away from the party scene. Cars are rare – if you need to get somewhere and you can’t make it on foot, there are plenty of golf-carts – and there are excellent options for dining with fresh seafood and local cervezas in abundance.

Belfast, Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland’s capital is buzzing in July, when the atmosphere – and the weather – is excellent (summers are cool with an average of 19 degrees; winters are long, cold and wet). Belfast hosts one of the largest 12th of July parades in the country. Known colloquially at The Twelfth, the day celebrates Ulster’s history and culture and it’s a national holiday throughout Northern Ireland. Expect much Guinness and carousing.

Belfast Town Hall

The city’s attractions include the beautiful covered St George’s Market, historic Irish pubs such as Kelly’s Cellars and the Titanic museum, dedicated to history’s most famous shipwreck. Take the time to explore its troubled history – there are still walls here that separate different communities and political murals mark many public spaces. Once you’ve covered the centre, day-trip beyond the city limits along the stunning Causeway Coast. Here, the dramatic landscape includes craggy, green-furred cliffs, the UNESCO-listed Giant’s Causeway and quaint villages that guarantee top-notch fish and chips. This is Game of Thrones territory – see if you can recognise where iconic scenes were filmed.

Newfoundland, Canada

It’s never truly warm in Newfoundland but when you compare highs of 18 degrees to the winter low of zero, July seems positively balmy. Whether you’ve read Annie Proulx’s Pulitzer-winner The Shipping News or you’re just into the road less travelled, Newfoundland, in the easternmost corner of Canada, will inspire. From the coast you can watch 10,000-year-old icebergs drift over from the Arctic each spring and see the world’s largest population of humpback whales breach in the mist hovering over the water. The historical capital, St John’s, is a collection of cute, cartoon-like buildings in primary colours, the better to distract its residents from the chilly winters.

St Petersburg, Russia

Peterhof Palace, St Petersburg - Russia

The “window to the West” is renowned for its beauty. St Petersburg is all romantic canals, fairy-tale-pretty palaces and public buildings, and languid strolling in the Summer Garden. Catch opera or ballet in Neoclassical Mariinsky theatre where greats such as Nureyev have trod (or pirouetted) the boards. Vasilyevskiy Island is an islet-neighbourhood across the river from the Winter Palace, where 19th-century apartment blocks sit side-by-side with some of the city’s most iconic institutions – including St Petersburg State University, the Kunstkammer ethnographic museum and the Stock Exchange. July is also an excellent time to visit Peterhof, a kind of Russian Palace of Versailles located just outside the city. Summer is the only time visitors can view its landscaped gardens and fountains.

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Fiji

July is dry season in Fiji, which means clear, still waters and long sunny days of snorkelling, swimming and snoozing. Make the most of the tropical locale and stay in an overwater bungalow – here they’re called bures. Some of the best, as far as we’re concerned, are those at Likuliku Lagoon Resort on Malolo Island. Each of the 10 sit over a coral reef and guests can leap from their private balconies directly into the sea.

Cartagena, Colombia

You’d think Cartagena was a brand-new proposition, judging by the amount of buzz around it’s generating. But the colonial Colombian city dates to 1533 and wandering its walled old city and fortress is like stepping back in time. Within the mustard-hued buildings – partially obscured by bougainvillea – are an ever-increasing number of hip restaurants, bars and hotels.

In addition to the charms of town, there’s the lure of the white sand and clear waters of [nearby] Caribbean [beaches?]. Take an overnight trip to La Playa Blanca on Isla Baru to stay in hammocks or thatched huts right on the shore. The sand is shockingly white; the ocean stunningly blue. Swimming, drinking aguardiente in tiny beach bars, dining in restaurants serving just-caught fish and hailing roaming oyster vendors are the main forms of entertainment.

New York, United States

4th of July fireworks in New York city

Head to New York where it’s summer in the city and a calendar of activities is lined up either side of the 4th of July. Yes, the humidity can be oppressive – but nothing Australians can’t handle. If it’s all too much, just open a fire hydrant and dance about in the spray a la generations of NYC kids (you can actually request the NY Fire Department to do this for you; they’ll put a spray cap on it to control the pressure).

Alternatively, spend the hottest hours of the day in one of New York’s many fabulous museums, which, in addition to artworks have very good air-conditioning. Another benefit of visiting New York in July: locals head out of town for the summer so there’s plenty of sidewalk space. Early evening is a lovely time to wander the streets and soak up the atmosphere, happen upon a festival or have a drink on a rooftop bar such as Top of the Strand in midtown. Which, incidentally, is a great position from which to see the Macy’s Fourth of July Fireworks over the East River.

Montreux, Switzerland

Its mild climate and epic annual jazz festival make Montreux a magnet for discerning holidaymakers. In addition to its lakefront setting and backdrop of towering Alps, the town’s microclimate means there’s an almost Mediterranean vibe – it’s been dubbed the Montreux Riviera. The main promenade is lined with grand Belle Epoque buildings and palms. A beautiful 45-minute walk around the lake will take visitors to the Château de Chillon, a medieval castle located on an island just a few metres offshore. With the means to live anywhere, many of the world’s best known creatives have chosen Montreux: Freddie Mercury lived here until his death; David Bowie was an on-off resident for more than 20 years; and Noël Coward lived here with his companion Graham Payn.

Darwin, Australia

Clear sunny days with little to no rain make Darwin a great choice in winter – the humidity is dialled way down but days still reach highs of 30 degrees. Darwin is a great base from which to explore some of Australia’s greatest natural wonders, with Kakadu National Park, Jabiru, Litchfield National Park and Arnhem Land all within driving distance. In the city itself, must-dos include dinner at the Mindil Sunset Markets, learning about Darwin’s role in WWII at the Darwin Military Museum and exploring Aboriginal art at one of the many galleries.

SEE ALSO: The Best Beaches Around the World

Portmeirion, Wales

The quaint seaside village of Portmeirion is unique in several ways: it resembles a village you’d see on the Italian Riviera; it has no permanent residents; and it was conceived and designed entirely by one man: Clough Williams-Ellis. Between 1925 and 1975, Williams-Ellis transported crumbling and endangered buildings from all over the world and created a brightly coloured dream-town right on the coast of Snowdonia. Williams-Ellis described it as a “home for fallen buildings”; others he designed himself and the Castell Deudraeth has stood since the mid-19th century. The tourist village is now managed by a charitable trust.

Copenhagen, Denmark

The Danish capital opens up like a blooming flower during the summer months, with locals out and about enjoying the city’s parks, beaches and festivals. The city is conveniently small, making it navigable on foot or, better yet, bike. For kids, there’s the iconic theme park Tivoli Gardens; for the fun-park-averse Copenhagen’s natural parks and gardens are oases of green for cycling, sunbathing and picnicking. In midsummer, there are daily puppet shows for kids at the Kings Garden, which dates to the early 1600s. For swimmers, the harbour water in Copenhagen is so clean that citizens bob about in ocean pools alongside docked boats. If it’s a beach you’re after, the pretty Amager Strandpark is less than 10 minutes drive away. Who knew?

The Ionian Islands, Greece

Copenhagen's colourful waterfront

The Ionian Islands, of which Corfu is the best known, are off the western coastline of Greece in the Ionian Sea. Like the better-known Cyclades islands (think Santorini, Mykonos and Paros) dotted around the Aegean to the east, they offer beautiful beaches, all manner of accommodations and excellent food. The climate in this part of Greece is slightly cooler and where the Clycladic islands have rocky, dry landscapes, the Ionians have plentiful olive and cypress trees and green-carpeted mountains. Historically, they were ruled by Venice and later France, giving them a distinctive cultural identity. Architecturally, instead of the iconic white-and-blue buildings common to the Cyclades, romantic Venetian and graceful French architecture are the norm. Don’t miss the historical monuments of Corfu, the dramatic red-sand at Xi Beach on Kefalonia and the shipwreck of the MV Panagiotis at Smugger’s Cove on Zakynthos. 

SEE ALSO: Idyllic Greek Islands You've Never Heard Of

Mount Fuji, Japan

Mount Fuji is an active volcano but don’t let that deter you. The last time it erupted was 1707 and the highest peak in Japan has been worshipped as a sacred site for centuries. On a clear day, the mountain can even be seen from Tokyo; the capital is a great base – a day-trip to Fujisan takes about an hour and a half on the shinkansen (fast train). But it’s worth spending more time at the mountain, which is open for climbing during July and August. Huts and other facilities line the routes for climbers to rest; the ascent takes between five and seven hours. Hakone, a hot-spring resort town located nearby, offers traditional onsens to soak in after the exertion.

Trenčín, Slovakia

About two hours west from the capital of Bratislava, Trenčin is a picturesque city with a dramatic fortified castle atop a rocky promontory. Its history extends as far (actually, further) back as the Romans: a legionnaire stationed there in the 2nd century left an inscription in the rock (it can be viewed through a window in the Hotel Elizabeth’s terrace). But even more famous is the annual Pohoda Festival held every July. This year, it takes place between 11 and 13 July at Trenčin Airport and the line-up includes Lykke Li, The Roots and Charlotte Gainsbourg.

The Pantanal, Brazil

The Pantanal, Brazil

Long overshadowed by the Amazon rainforest to its north, the Pantanal quietly goes about its business of being home to the highest concentration of wildlife on South America. Its also the world’s largest tropical wetland and by July, the torrential downpour that fills this 210,000-square-kilometre basin has ebbed, leaving behind pools filled with fish and snails for flocks of jabiru stalks and buff-bellied herons to feast on. Also lured by the bounty are giant otters, rare marsh deer, maned wolves, jaguars and ocelots. The northern Pantanal is the best place to see jaguars and there are plenty of lodges and package tours to choose from. If you’re heading to the southern Pantanal, don’t miss Bonito, an eco-tourism hub where visitors can snorkel in ancient grottos, swim beneath pristine waterfalls and hike through the unique wetlands.

Singapore

It is never cold in Singapore, so leave your puffer jacket at home and pack some light layers for the sticky temperatures. The city-state is known for its food culture – a delicious blend of Malay, Chinese and Indian traditions – and for the month of July it hosts the Singapore Food Festival to really highlight its culinary nous. There are workshops, showcases and more food markets, pop-ups and guest chefs than you can poke a chopstick at. Consider this exciting fusion: ramen-mavens Ippudo have created a chilli crab ramen – it’ll be serving 30 bowls a day and no more, so get your food schedule locked down before you arrive. Singapore’s other passion, shopping, has a new playground at Jewel Changi Airport, the new lifestyle precinct that has to be seen to be believed – you may want to turn up for your flight several days early.

SEE ALSO: The Ultimate Travel Bucket List

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